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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Panama: Darién Lowlands

2022 Narrative

IN BRIEF: Panama’s vast and sparsely populated Darien Province contains some of the most remote and wild lowland and montane wilderness remaining in Central America. From the end of the highway in the port town of Yaviza to the mountains along the Columbian border there are virtually no roads, and the local Embera people use small dugout canoes to travel around and transport their goods. In early 2014 the Canopy Tower company completed work on a comfortable permanent tented camp near the end of the highway surrounded by an excellent forest reserve that protects the watershed for the small town of Sanson. These large tents, positioned on hardwood platforms with decks that give excellent views of the surrounding forest offer individual bathrooms and showers, electricity and full sized very comfortable beds. The campgrounds have been heavily planted with flowering and fruiting plants, and we awoke each morning to the sounds of calling Yellow-throated Toucans, Cocoa Woodpeckers, Whooping Motmots and a bubbling flock of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas that were happily denuding the camp of bananas. The mammal show around the camp was excellent too, with daily visits from White-throated Capuchin, Geoffrey’s Tamarin, Mantled Howler Monkey, White-nosed Coati and Red-tailed Squirrel. Although much of the primary forest that remains is far off the road system we spent a very enjoyable week birding around the end of the road and the more accessible areas out in the western end of the Embera Comarca.

The bird highlights were many, with some of the most iconic species of the continent showing well. Undoubtedly one of the largest draws, figuratively and literally is the Harpy Eagle, and this year we experienced lengthy views of an interacting pair of eagles at their nest. At one point the male virtually flew over us, providing an unforgettable view as it swept past on huge, barred wings. This year we were also fortunate to connect with a nearly fledged Crested Eagle that was moving around and begging for one of its parents to come in with breakfast. This corner of Panama often holds a few surprises due to its proximity to Colombia, and this year we tallied a singing Olive-grey Saltator, a small group of Carib Grackles, and a very out of place Northern Screamer (North America’s second sighting, although the first sighting was not too far away from this location in 2020 and could realistically be of the same individual). Other highlights included an incredible three species of Macaws (including a wonderful late afternoon with a flock of 14 critically endangered Great Greens), dazzling Blue Cotingas gleaming from the treetops, King Vultures feeding on a carcass, Black Antshrikes lurking in the undergrowth, Spot-breasted and Golden-green Woodpeckers working trees just overhead, a Dusky-backed Jacamar sitting along a quiet riverbank, and the surprisingly attractive and range-restricted Black Oropendola. These areas in the Darien are little explored and I am sure that the creation of a comfortable lodge here will produce a lot of new discoveries. I very much look forward to returning next fall!

IN DETAIL: Normally we would have started off the 2021 WINGS visit to the Canopy Camp Darien with a visit to the rolling ridges along the continental divide in Nusagandi. Unfortunately for us, one local victim of the pandemic was the road up into the hills, which this year was pot-holed and washed out to a degree that our vehicle had no chance of getting up it due to lack of road maintenance. In speaking to some local guides who had made the trip up recently we also discovered that the normal trail that we take had disintegrated in the recent heavy rains, making our target, the enigmatic Sapayoa a virtual impossibility. Hopefully the local populace that rely on this road (the sole road that crosses the central mountains over to the Caribbean coast east of the canal zone) will prevail upon the government to undertake repairs soon. We came up with a plan B, which was to bird the area of forest just past Lake Bayano in the morning and then continue on to the camp, arriving in time to bird around the grounds in the afternoon. At a comfort stop just a bit west of Lake Bayano we spent a few minutes birding the edge of the parking lot, where we tallied our first official birds; Thick-billed Euphonia, House Wren and a handsome male Barred Antshrike. We then carried on past the lake, observing a few Guna Yala women wearing their traditional brightly colored clothes and tall multi-stranded anklets. Our first stop was at the Rio Mono bridge, a high but short span that has good forest on both sides of the road. The bridge acts a bit like a canopy tower, giving us a nearly eye-level view of the upper parts of the canopy. Initially the area didn’t seem particularly active, but as we stood on the bridge and surveyed the forest we tracked down a Forest Elaenia, a rather unremarkable canopy species that is heard far more than seen. While watching the Elaenia we were distracted by the rising kettles of vultures coming over the nearby ridgeline. Most were Black or Turkey Vultures, but we picked out a few Ospreys and Broad-winged Hawks, and a wonderful Black Hawk-Eagle that was languidly climbing up through the flock. We moved across the road, where we soon found a little mixed flock with Lesser Greenlet, Bay-breasted Warbler, a busy pair of White-eared Conebill and two Cinnamon Woodpeckers. The activity was steady, and along with the flock we located a pair of perched Black-tailed Trogons, a Yellow-backed Oriole up in the canopy and perched White-vented Plumeleteer and Violet-bellied Hummingbird. All the commotion attracted a beautiful Great Black-Hawk that swept in and perched just a little above eye-level, gave us an appraising if disdainful eye and then carried on across the road. We spent a bit more time ensuring that everyone in the group got onto the Conebills, which can be a tricky species to see well given their busy nature and tendency towards the upper canopy, before driving a bit further east to a traditional trailhead that leads into the forest. We found the trail overgrown, and the valley to be recently cut-over, but at the trailhead we found a nice mix of species including Boat-billed Flycatcher, White-browed Gnatcatcher, Plain-colored Tanager, and a circling Common Black-Hawk. We didn’t tarry too long, and soon were heading further east on the Pan-American Highway, arriving in the small town of Torti by the late morning. Here at a roadside café we found several hummingbird and fruit feeders and some large trees making for some excellent birding while we enjoyed our pre-ordered cooked lunches. The town’s birthday was the next day, and there was a loud musical celebration set up in the café parking lot, which made the stop a bit less relaxing than usual and perhaps contributed to the muted number of hummingbirds at the feeders. There were a few Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds and both male and female Black-throated Mangos around though, as well as a few Snowy-bellied and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. We ate lunch on the patio adjacent to the feeders, enjoying cold drinks and lifebirds concurrently. It was not only hummingbirds that captured our attention here though; the fruit feeders just off the deck were attracting a number of Blue-gray Tanagers, Bananaquits, and Clay-coloured Thrushes, as well as the occasional Baltimore Oriole, Orange-chinned Parakeet or Blue Dacnis.

After lunch, we made the final hour and a half drive into Darien province, stopping to take photos of the state border signs as we passed. We arrived at the camp in the mid-afternoon after driving through a fairly impressive rainstorm. Although it was no longer raining around the camp, we found the creek along the driveway to be swollen with the recent rain, making it too difficult for us to reach the camp with the van. Rather than shuttling us across using the camps 4X4 trucks we decided to spent the rest of the day birding further down the Pan-American Highway thus giving the creek time to recede. This proved a most excellent plan, as we were able to spend about an hour slowly birding along a side road near the Yaviza Wetlands. A few weeks prior to our arrival a visiting birding group struck gold by finding a Northern Screamer (the second sighting for the country and continent) in this wetland, and happily for us the bird was sticking around. The start of the entrance road into the small wetland kept us busy for some time, with a cooperative pair of Spot-breasted Woodpeckers obligingly coming in to tape. This species is certainly a candidate for most attractive new world woodpecker and is a must see for any woodpecker enthusiast. A golden belly that turns orangey-copper on its spotted breast provides an excellent complement to the bold white face, streaked throat, red malar stripe and dark crown. In the thick marsh vegetation we found our first Smooth-billed Anis, a few Purple Gallinule and Wattled Jacana (here of the striking black-backed subspecies that is found from central Panama into northwest Colombia), a cute Pied Water-Tyrant and a calling Striped Cuckoo that we must have been within just a few feet of but were unable to spot. We walked in a short distance and were ecstatic to see that the Screamer was perched up in a short tree out in the marsh. We were able to watch it for some time in the scope, noting the birds huge charcoal gray body, bright red face, little crest and somewhat spindly legs. It’s not often that you get to see a species that isn’t even illustrated in the updated field guide to a country! The screamer eventually dropped down off its perch, flying on broad wings down into the marsh and virtually disappearing in the tall vegetation. The daylight was beginning to wane by then, with little groups of Red-lored and Blue-headed Parrots flying overhead, Pale-vented Pigeons gathering on the treetops and a small group of four Chestnut-fronted Macaws flying over the wetlands so we started back to the car. The area held one last surprise for us though, as near the main road we could hear the ringing whistles of an Olive-gray Saltator emanating from a weedy area in the marsh. This species, a recent split from Grayish Saltator, was discovered in Panama only a few years ago. Initially thought to involve only one or two wandering birds from Colombia it has become clear that a very small population has become established near the terminus of the Pan-American Highway. This marked a second species for the day that isn’t even shown in the field guide; a testament to how little explored the Darien really is. We reached the camp in the early evening and found the creek to be significantly lower (although we still had to drive through a few inches of rushing water). We had time to settle into our comfortable tents and enjoy an excellent dinner in the open-air dining area before turning in for the night.

We awoke the next morning and met up near the dining area for an hour or so of pre-breakfast birding. The clearing around the camp has been liberally stocked with hummingbird-friendly plants, and in addition to those flowers the camp staff maintain a dozen feeders placed all around the dining area. These feeders, especially those in the shade by the rocking chairs, were being rapidly drained by a horde of hungry hummingbirds. Likely the most common species here were Sapphire-throated and Blue-chested Hummingbirds, White-vented Plumeleteer and White-necked Jacobin. By staking out the feeders and flowering Porterweeds though we also noted a few Long-billed Starthroats, Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds, and Black-throated Mangos. Several fruit feeder platforms have been artfully arranged around the dining area as well, and these were attracting a steady stream of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas (and one Crested for comparison), some gaudy Collared Aracaris, and a nice selection of mammals including hungry Geoffrey’s Tamarins, a portly Red-tailed Squirrel and a small group of White-faced Capuchins that were strolling around as if they owned the place. Perhaps the best find right around the dining area was a pair of Golden-headed Manakins that were gleaning fruit from a small bush out in the middle of the clearing. The male is an especially handsome bird; with a jet-black body and throat, white eyes, and golden-yellow helmet.

After breakfast we spent the rest of the morning birding around the camp clearing and down the driveway. It’s an amazingly productive area, and over the three hours or so that we were wandering around we recorded over 70 species; likely never getting more than 250m from our tents! In the taller trees around the camp we picked out perched Yellow-throated Toucans, Red-lored and Blue-headed Parrots and a sitting Double-toothed Kite that would later swoop in and perch just over our heads. Strikingly patterned Streaked Flycatchers were a common sight around the clearing, and over the staff parking area we found a group of Greater Anis clambering around in the shrubbery, with their bright yellow eyes, long tails and vaguely menacing bills clearly setting them apart from their smaller Smooth and Groove-billed cousins. We made it a few feet down the drive before a camp staff member informed us that there were King Vultures down at the camps newly erected vulture feeding station. We hastened down the trail past cabin 8 and were soon staring at two adult and one juvenile King Vultures that were perched low in the trees behind the clearing. A scrappy horde of Black Vultures were picking yesterdays offered cow’s head clean, and judging by the visibly bulging crops of the two adult Kings quite a bit of meat had already been consumed. The improbable colours of the adults, with their ornate rainbow-hued wattles, pale eyes, mostly white bodies and wings is a wonder to behold up close. The birds somehow teeter along the line between ugly and beautiful. As we walked back up the trail we were distracted by a male Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth that was stretching and trying to dry out a bit after the previous days rain. I suspect that for much of the rainy season sloths are simply damp all the time, a condition that visiting birders can perhaps relate to. Here too was an amazingly well camouflaged mantis that so closely resembled a patch of lichen that it was hard to pick out even in the scopes. After a bit of effort finding the right angle, we also tracked down a calling Gartered Trogon perched over the trail. We then finally made it a bit down the drive where we found a perched Roadside Hawk, and a pair of cooperative White-bellied Antbirds that initially were stubbornly buried in a dense vine tangle but eventually came out onto the open ground providing excellent views. From the same spot we were thrilled to see a pair of Grey-cheeked Nunlet, a range-restricted species found only in the Darien and adjacent Colombia that lingered under the canopy for long enough for the entire group to study the delicate apricot wash across their chests. In the canopy above us we heard the reeling rattle of Double-banded Graytails, and after some searching soon found a trio of these gray and whitish furnarids as they quickly moved around in the canopy.

Further down the driveway we encountered an excellent mixed flock with Northern Barred, Cocoa and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, our first Ochre-lored Flycatchers, Cinnamon and White-winged Becards, Olivaceous Piculet and Red-rumped Woodpeckers and a busy flock of White-winged Tanagers. It was flock birding at its best, with the birds slowly moving across the back of a clearing down close to eye level and in good light. Near the turn-around point in the walk we picked out a Crane Hawk that thankfully perched up in a towering Cuipo tree for a lengthy scope view. Under that same tree we called in a group of Purple-throated Fruitcrows. This is a large and quite social species of Cotinga, jet-black except for the namesake (actually vinous coloured) throat of the males. Unlike most species in the family, they are quite vocal and active in the canopy, landing with quivering tails and a series of expressive quarks. Luckily for us the male landed at a good angle for us to really appreciate the intensity of the colour on the throat, which is actually vinous or claret toned rather than the more generic purple that its name would suggest. Across the road here we heard a calling Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and with a bit of looking soon found the bird perched low on a horizontal branch, glowing like an emerald and rust beacon in the shadowy understory.

We took lunch back at the camp, and then enjoyed a bit of a siesta. During this time off it began to steadily rain, occasionally hard enough that it was hard to hear over the downpour. As our prescribed meeting time approached the rains tapered and then basically stopped. We spent a bit of time reviewing the masses of hummingbirds that were swarming the feeders after the downpour and then set off down the drive, planning to spend the remainder of the afternoon down the terminus of the Pan-American highway near the town of Yaviza. Although the rain had basically stopped (save a semi-persistent drip) the creek level below the camp had risen substantially, meaning that we couldn’t get our van through the crossing. We birded a bit on the camp-side of the river, finding a few another mixed flock with roughly the same species composition as the morning, but with the edition of Yellow-crowned Euphonia, a close Yellow-bellied Elaenia and a passing Pale-bellied Hermit. We reached the creek and it was soon evident that it would be some time before the van could safely cross. After a bit of logistical gymnastics we secured three camp pickups and made the crossing with these higher clearance vehicles with ease. Since our time had been shortened with the delay we opted not to make the half-hour drive east to Yaviza, and instead walk the road to La Penitas. This road takes off just a tad east of the camp, heading north and eventually reaching the Chucunaque River. A long-running but still makeshift camp has been established at the end of the road here to deal with the stream of incoming immigrants making the illegal border crossing from Colombia. It’s a perilous and physically demanding crossing, completed after many weeks or months of travel from the immigrants home countries (largely Haiti and Venezuela, but increasingly from as far away as Southeast Asia and Africa). Once they reach the Panamanian river system they catch rides on passing boats and then disembark at places like La Penitas, where they are processed by the local authorities, given a general health check-up and then sent by bus westwards to the Costa Rican border to continue their journey northwards. We saw a few doctors without border trucks and some large buses go by, doubtless involved in the process, but otherwise traffic was light. The road passes through cut-over forest, with patches of standing trees interspersed with small farms and open fields. It’s an interesting mix of habitats, and the more open sky can be good in the late afternoon for perched up larger birds and birds in flight. We had a little over an hour here, slowly walking along the road and scanning the distant treetops for anything sitting up in an attempt to dry out after the midday rain. Among the more interesting sightings were sitting Gray-lined Hawk and Laughing Falcon, two perched Chestnut-fronted Macaws, scope views of several Yellow-throated Toucans, our first Black-chested Jays, a Panama Flycatcher and flights of Short-tailed and Band-rumped Swifts. As the day came to a close we headed back to the lodge for a break before dinner, preparing to head out on a longer expedition the next morning in search of Crested Eagle.

Roughly a year ago the camp guides became aware of an active Crested Eagle nest not too far off this road, in a section of privately owned forest. The owners, a consortium of people involved in running a local school had begun selectively logging the area, but when told about the eagle agreed to cease the disturbance to the area. The canopy family then gated the trail, erected lots of new signage and has been financially supporting the school by bringing groups in to see the bird for many months. Crested Eagle is smaller than its Harpy cousin, and prefers large tracts of relatively undisturbed forest. The species is widespread, but rare, with only a fraction of the sightings of the much better-known Harpy. The nesting habits are virtually unknown, and this nest has been actively monitored by a graduate student for much of the year in an attempt to better understand the species. In the nearly 10 years of trips, we have conducted in the area only once before had we been able to attempt to access a Crested Eagle nest site. On that occasion we were about a week too late, with the young bird too mobile by the time we tried. We had heard that this chick too had begun to leave the nest for short periods, so we knew that we were by no means guaranteed a view. We started the day with a journey a bit to the east along the Pan-American highway to bird the El Salto Rd. On the drive Eli spotted a perched Barred Puffbird up on a roadside wire, so we stopped for a bit to admire this hulking brown species that is largely restricted to a small corner of Panama and Colombia. Once we reached the side road to El Salto we switched from the van to the camps two open-air trucks with upper deck outdoor seating. The road runs northeast from the highway to the banks of the Cuchunaque River, giving the local Embera people access to the road system. It is little traveled, and passes through a mix of older second growth forest, small clearings and seemingly ever-growing teak plantations. From our seats we could easily scan the forest edges along the road, finding Black-tailed and White-tailed Trogons, Black-chested Jay, Roadside and Broad-winged Hawks, and two pairs of White-whiskered Puffbirds.

We parked at the trailhead and were immediately alerted to the presence of a calling Bare-crowned Antbird along the road. Though the species is present across much of Panama they are generally quite difficult to see anywhere other than the Darien, although even here they often stay back in the depths of undergrowth tangles. We eventually tracked down decent if quick views of an immature bird that was nearly all-black, but never did find the much flashier adults. A small flock that included our first Plain Xenops was foraging along the edge of the road here too. After picking out some hiking sticks we set off down the well-maintained but remarkably muddy trail. Hand rails had been installed on the small sloped sections, and bridges with handholds allowed us to cross two small creeks with ease. Had the footing been less slippery it would have been quite a simple walk. As it was, we slipped and squelched our way further into the forest, with the popping and squishing of our boots certainly making our approach to the nesting area rather obvious. During the walk in we briefly saw a large Black-and-Green Dart Frog with an intricate network of dots and swirls of green on its largely black body as it hopped along the bank of one of the small creeks and (with the sharp eyes of Jane) managed excellent scope views of a perched and calling Semiplumbeous Hawk that was sitting high up in the canopy over the trail.

Once we reached the nest, tucked into the horizontal branches of a very tall Cuipo tree (as they often are) we could see that the chick was not in the nesting tree. We walked a bit further in, and were thrilled to soon hear the telltale begging of the young bird emanating from the upper canopy not too far from the trail. The bird flew, heading in the direction of the nest which precipitated a quick reversal back up the trail and a bit of stress for those that had not seen the bird in flight. Happily for all of us the chick landed near the nest, and we spent the next hour or so watching it as it begged nearly continuously. Occasionally it would stop, perhaps distracted by a falling leaf, or itchy feathers that were still coming in on its shaggy crest. Being able to watch a bird as impressive, and rare, as Crested Eagle for that long is a truly special experience. As the digital field guide to Panama says “Crested Eagle is always rare and infrequently seen, any day with a Crested Eagle deserves a gold star.” We had hoped that the male might come in with a prey item while we waited, but we contented ourselves with the very good views of junior. After about an hour the chick apparently decided that dad wasn’t going to arrive with lunch anytime soon, so it jumped off its perch with impressively wide wings and dropped out of the tree; quickly disappearing through the trees. With the eagle out of sight we noted a few smaller birds around the tree, including a pair of Choco Sirystes; a staccato voiced flycatcher that somewhat resembles a skinny Eastern Kingbird and one that is yet another Darien specialty in North America. Some furtive Gray-headed Tanagers and our first male Golden-collared Manakin, Acadian Flycatcher and Plain-brown Woodcreepers were here too. After extracting ourselves from the muddy trail we enjoyed some snacks and cold drinks back at the car, in the company of a beautiful Golden-green Woodpecker that was perched high up in the canopy over the car, and a pair of vocal Laughing Falcons that we saw well in the scopes, and then heard for many minutes afterwards.

As it was only late morning, we decided to drive the rest of the road down to the riverbank. On the way we stopped frequently, spotting birds such as the rather improbable Long-tailed Tyrant (a small and rotund black flycatcher with a white crown and ridiculously long upper tail coverts that somewhat resemble the train on a fancy wedding dress), perched up Yellow-throated Toucans, a passing Squirrel Cuckoo, our first Mealy Parrots of the trip and another trio of chatty Purple-throated Fruitcrows. We found the river to be impressively high, obviously well out of its banks due to the recent rains. We tried the trail that winds out paralleling the river, but apart from a quite showy male Black-throated Trogon tucked in the understory and a few passing Short-tailed Swifts that were at an angle that was sufficiently low enough for us to make out the light gray wash on some of their rumps. The drive out was again punctuated by perched up birds, and a lounging Three-toed Sloth that surely is now one of the most photographed individuals in Panama! Right at the junction with the highway we heard a pair of White-headed Wrens up in the trees that did eventually show themselves a few times before they melted off into the canopy.

We were a tad late for our lunch, arriving back at the camp just a tad after 1pm. After lunch and a short siesta, we departed again, this time bound for a second attempt at reaching the town of Yaviza, which marks the end of the Pan American Highway in North America. The roads around the Darien have recently been vastly improved with modern bridges, good tarmac, and even pull-outs and shelters for buses. Despite these improvements (designed to bring more people out into the eastern reaches of the country) the last 15 miles or so of the highway past the camp is still lightly trafficked, and offers some excellent birding in small roadside wetlands, forest patches and pastures. Since we had visited the wetland area briefly a few days prior we elected to head all the way down to the town of Yaviza, where we took the obligatory photos of the road side advertising the roughly 12500 KM trip north to Alaska and then spent some time birding around the Yaviza Cemetery, which sits up on a hill right on the banks of the river. We found a large flowering tree up on the cemetery hill that was attracting quite a few migrant Baltimore (and a few Orchard) Orioles, as well as an array of tanagers and hummingbirds, and some chattering Spectacled Parrotlets that unfortunately buzzed off and headed straight away from us before we could pin them down in the tree. The skies were ominously dark, which provided a good backdrop to watch a flock of wheeling Short-tailed Swifts as they foraged just overhead. This spot is traditionally a good area to look for Bicolored Wren, a large arboreal species that is a recent colonizer from Colombia, but this year we heard nary a peep. As we walked back down to the car it began to rain so we decided to head back west in an attempt to find better weather. We were only marginally successful, stopping at a couple of small wetland patches along the road in a light drizzle but passing up our planned stop back at the screamer site where we had planned to look for Donacobius and Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird as when we passed that area it was bucketing down with rain. At the smaller wetland spots that we were able to check we were shocked by the number of migrating Orchard Orioles (over 40 at one location) that were foraging in the damp grassland. Along with them we found a smattering of other migrants, such as Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow Warbler and Indigo Bunting, as well as some residents like a male White-winged Becard, a foraging Rufous-breasted Hermit and lots of Blue-black Grassquit and Smooth-billed Ani. The drizzle caught up with us here too, so we decided to head in for the day to celebrate our Crested Eagle with some excellent chocolate cake.

The next day of the trip was reserved for penetrating more deeply east into the Darien in search of Panama’s national bird; the regal, if not downright imposing, Harpy Eagle. With the arrival of a successful ecolodge in the Darien many local communities are now aware that by finding and protecting Eagle nests they can attract visitors from the camp, thus economically benefiting from conservation. This system has been working quite well, and for the last few years there have generally been multiple Harpy Eagle nests known to the camp guides that visiting birds are allowed access to. As the nesting period for a pair takes an amazing eighteen months these nests can stay viable for quite some time, bringing in much needed money to local communities.

The most accessible nest this year was actually at the same location that we visited in 2021. That year we found the male eagle eating a prey item which turned out to be his own chick! This was apparently the first nesting attempt for the pair, and often the first attempt fails. In 2022 the same pair of birds nested again in the same tree, and during the time of our visit the egg had just (within a week of our visit) hatched. Some other visitors to the camp had seen the birds the prior day, so we set off with high expectations. We left camp in the early morning, driving through the mountains behind the camp and over towards Puerto Quimba. We then turned off on a new looking dirt road heading south, which led through a landscape of mixed forest and cleared ranchlands, eventually depositing us on the banks of the Tuquira across from the little town of Chepigana, and just a bit upstream from where its broad and convoluted delta empties into the Pacific. Given our desire to reach the trailhead at a reasonable hour we didn’t tarry long on the drive over, although we did stop a few times for things like a perched Scaled Pigeon, a Gray-cowled Wood-Rail crossing the road, our first Southern Lapwings out in a pasture and for a few perched Roadside or Broad-winged Hawks.

Once we reached the river we hopped onto our covered boat and set off on the roughly one-hour journey up the Rio de Marea. We passed through a fully tidal region, with lots of small mangroves along the creek, and a host of birds more closely associated with estuarine environments. Lots of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, White Ibis, Common Black Hawks, and Little Blue Herons punctuated the ride, with a few small flocks of Whimbrel and the odd Spotted Sandpiper along as well. A flock of Brown-hooded Parrots passed by at one point, thankfully low enough that we could make out their distinctive brown hoods and red axillaries, and we could hear or see pairs of Red-lored and Blue-headed Parrots overhead most of the trip.

By mid-morning, we landed at a small bend in the river that gives locals access to a semi-cleared agricultural forest where crops of cacao, banana and coffee have been planted in the understory. We were met by members of the local community and soon were ushered along the quite muddy trail, happy to have the network of boards and railings that were recently installed. While navigating this trail we were amazed to watch the local children, many as young as 8 or 10, effortlessly carrying the coolers containing our lunches through the muck while shoeless or wearing bright pink crocs. In a few minutes we reached a second clearing, this time around an elevated wooden house. Here we staged for the main part of the walk, although not before tracking down a calling Great Jacamar that we eventually obtained excellent views of as it glistened emerald-green in the morning sun up in a short Cecropia tree near the edge of the clearing. Some initially very cooperative Chestnut-backed Antbirds were nearby here as well, although by the time the last folks in the group had caught up the birds were less forthcoming. Some flowering trees near the house were attracting a couple of Fulvous-vented Euphonia and a female Golden-headed Manakin, and overhead we picked out two pairs of courting Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts. After a round of drinks and some snacks we headed off further away from the river, roughly paralleling a small, forested creek, with a bonified routine of locals coming along and helping to guide us through the muddier or steeper sections of trail. After about a half-mile the trail climbed a hill, thankfully much improved with the installation of paving stone steps and rope railings. The hill was steep, but not too long and just past the top of the steps we stopped for some time as a small understory flock distracted us from our eagle quest. In the flock we found our first White-flanked and Dot-winged Antwren, Checker-throated Stipplethroat and Black-crowned Antshrike. We left this group of antbirds behind and completed the walk over the hill and a bit down into the valley on the other side of the ridge until we reached a position to view the large nest that was nestled in the crown of a Cuipo tree. These trees have a very tall and straight trunk that is generally higher than the surrounding forest canopy. Once the tree reaches its super-canopy height it sends out an array of branched trunks from a central spot on the main trunk, creating a large and flat platform well above the forest. This is the preferred nesting spot for large forest raptors including Harpy and Crested Eagles as it affords an excellent vantage point and significant isolation from the main forest canopy which is readily accessed by potential predators. By virtue of our ridgetop angle the nest was just few degrees above our eye-level, making observations and photography quite easy. Few bird species in the world are as evocative as the Harpy. Standing over three feet tall, and weighing in at almost twenty pounds this huge raptor is often regarded as the largest bird of prey in the world. Their legs are thicker than a human wrist, with talons longer than the claws of an adult Grizzly Bear. Incredibly agile, these huge birds fly through the canopy like giant Accipiters, and are capable of grabbing and carrying prey as large as sloths and monkeys from their perches. Eastern Panama serves as the stronghold of the species within North America, and although Harpies do occur as far north as southern Mexico they are experiencing a steep population decline throughout most of central America. Here in the Darien the locals are proud of them, as the species is the national symbol of the country, and many villages are actively protecting birds that they find nearby. When we arrived, the female was standing up on the front rim of the nest and eating (happily not her chick this time). We were able to watch her from a respectful distance, taking seemingly endless photos and videos and showing her off to the locals through our binoculars, phone cameras and telescopes. It came as a bit of a surprise when one of the local men produced a fully functional custom binocular phone adaptor and promptly used Eli’s bins to record an excellent few minutes of footage. After about an hour she suddenly stood straight up and screamed, and to our amazement the male flew in on massive, banded wings. The female immediately started mantling over the nest (either her prey item or young chick) and squabbled with the male for a few minutes before he flew off – this time initially flying straight looking every bit large enough to carry some of the local kids away. The female stayed on the nest for a bit and then hopped up onto a nearby branch, posing for us for another half-hour or so. Our experience with these birds was simply epic, as we managed to see both adults; in flight and perched, and interacting and watch the female gently offering food to her still too small to see over the lip of the nest chick. The birds, and the warm hospitality and excitement of the local people simply exceeded expectations in every way!

As the morning drew to a close, we started back towards the river, making our way back to the clearing where we enjoyed a somewhat late lunch. The walk back out was more leisurely than our trek into the nest area, and we stopped repeatedly whenever bird activity seemed to warrant it. Probably the best find during the walk back was a tiny Stripe-throated Hermit that was sitting low in the understory and singing away at a lek site. A flock of Black-chested Jays, a calling Russet-winged Schiffornis and a male Black-tailed Trogon were nice too though. We ate lunch with the locals, and afterwards many participants did a little bit of shopping to support our hosts efforts. A few lucky folk managed to get onto a Blue-and-Yellow Macaw as it crossed over the clearing. It’s nice to know that there are parts of Panama where these impressive and colourful parrots still exist in reasonable numbers. Eventually we pulled ourselves away from this idyllic surrounding and bade farewell to our new friends (most of the family came down to the river to wave goodbye to us as we pulled out). The river was likely 10 feet lower than it had been when we arrived, and the tide was still quite obviously going out, making our ride back significantly quicker than the ride in.

For the rest of the afternoon, we birded our way back along the dirt Rio Iglesias Road, where we encountered a surprising diversity of birds. Near the boat dock we stopped at a weedy corner and were able to spot a pair of furtive Buff-breasted Wrens, as well as few Pacific Antwrens and an Olivaceous Woodcreeper that were all tucked into a quite impressively large tangle of vines. Leaving the river behind we loaded up in the back of the trucks and slowly drove northwest, although we didn’t get very far before we noticed a couple of birds crossing the road. What we thought would be a quick stop stretched easily into an hour, as these first few birds were part of a large mixed flock that we followed down a side road and into a small teak plantation (so it looks like some birds do, at least occasionally, wander into the teak). The original birds that caused us to stop proved to be a pair of Brown-capped Tyrannulets that were foraging uncharacteristically low in the foliage and an Olivaceous Piculet that allowed us close approach as he hammered away on a series of small dead vine branches along the road. New birds kept popping up, here a Dusky-capped or Panama Flycatcher, over there a Cinnamon or White-winged Becard and up above some foraging Golden-hooded Tanagers or Red-legged Honeycreepers. Tree trunks played host to Streak-headed and Cocoa Woodcreepers, Red-rumped, Lineated and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers and a particularly cooperative Plain Xenops. Against this busy backdrop of birds we located a couple of truly special and localized species. A young male One-coloured Becard marked only our second sighting ever, brightly hued Orange-crowned Orioles were foraging in a young palm tree just off the road and we teased out a female Black Antshrike that sat on an open branch for some time; a portrait of rufous with an amazingly streaked head. Black-chested Jays showed very well here, as did Chestnut-headed and Black Oropendola, Keel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucan and Greater Ani. The Black Oropendola is particularly attractive, with a maroon back, pink bill base and tip, and bright blue and red facial wattles. They are restricted to a small area of the Darien and adjacent Colombia and are truly a Canopy Camp specialty, and perhaps the most attractive species of Oropendola to boot. Several of these species are Choco endemics, occurring only in this little corner of Panama and an adjacent slice of Colombia. Before leaving this somewhat magical spot we tried a bit to coax one of the calling Little Tinamous out of its grassy tangles. It didn’t work, but while we were making the attempt one of our drivers spotted a snoozing Great Potoo high up in a teak tree; which was more than ample compensation.

A bit further down the road a small wetland was hosting some gaudy Crimson-backed Tanagers, as well as our first Lesser Kiskadee, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet and a male White-eared Conebill that was foraging right over the road. All along the drive we found raucous flights of (mostly) Red-lored Parrots to be seemingly everywhere, providing a near constant background chorus that at times even drowned out the sounds of the truck engines. The front car stopped to admire a pair of Gray-cowled Wood-Rails that walked across the road and then lingered for a bit in the shadowy understory adjacent to a small creek. While we watched them it dawned on us that the other two trucks had still not caught up, so we backtracked and discovered that they were watching a Northern Tamandua (an arboreal anteater with beautiful gold and brown fur, expressive eyes and seemingly oversized ears) that had crossed the road and then climbed well up a nearby tree where it was clutching the trunk and staring down at the people with a befuddled look. This was our first sighting of this species on the Darien tours, and was a great way to cap off our day; which really had been one of those special, nearly perfect days in the field.

Our last full day around the Darien was spent largely on dugout canoes along the Chucunaque River, heading upstream into the large Embera Comarca. This is a vast region controlled by the Embera indigenous group, with very few roads and scattered small villages along the rivers. We left the camp early, heading down the road to the boat launch at La Penita. Our sturdy boats (remarkably long dugout canoes with low wooden chairs) are owned and organized by the villagers of Nuevo Vigia (our destination for the morning) who also maintain the trail network into the forest that we use for birding, and offer assorted handicrafts, and occasionally a short native dance performance for their visitors. As we waited to board our boats, we heard a distinctive buzzy call coming from a tree near the soccer pitch. The author of the call proved to be a migrant Dickcissel, a write-in species for the tour and one that somehow seemed quite out of place surrounded by verdant forest.

Before reaching the village though we enjoyed birding from the dugout canoes on the Chucanaque and Tuquesa Rivers. We found the river edge forest to be quite busy with birds, particularly around the patches of fruiting Cercropia Trees. A large flock of Greater Anis, Oropendolas and Yellow-rumped Caciques was moving though the low vegetation, depopulating the area of caterpillars. Up around the fruiting trees we picked out a couple of White-necked Puffbirds, various tanagers and warblers and an impressive number of Blue Cotingas including a few stunningly bright males which glow with an intensity that almost redefines the colour blue. Along the riverbanks we found Ringed and Amazon Kingfishers, sunning Anhinga, Neotropic Cormorants and an array of herons including our first Striated and a beautiful butterscotch and cream coloured Capped Heron. Along the way we also enjoyed the dozens of Mangrove Swallows which joined the less colourful Southern Rough-winged and migrant Barn Swallows in coursing over the river; often perching on small emergent stalks and providing excellent views as we passed. The boat ride provided a few Darien specialties as well including distant but clear views of a small flock of tiny Spectacled Parrotlets, a group of three incredibly loud and impressively colourful Red-throated Caracara, and on a small backwater side channel of the river that we carefully navigated the boats into a Dusky-backed Jacamar. This small and swarthy Jacamar has an extremely limited world range (like several other species in the Darien) and is quite poorly known. This little backwater channel also hosted a very responsive Streaked Xenops, a passing Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture and a tiny Pied Puffbird that gave us a bit of chase before settling down on a branch long enough for us to navigate both boats into a good position. Just after the puffbird the pleasantly cool and overcast skies decided to rain on us. Happily, it lasted all of five minutes, and shortly afterwards the skies cleared for the rest of the day. During our boat trip in to the village we were also treated to a first-hand experience with the humanitarian crisis that has been steadily growing in this part of Panama, and indeed all around the world.

Panama has, for well over a decade, been on the receiving end of a trail of immigrants from Haiti, Venezuela and as far away as Africa and Southeast Asia. Generally people book passage to Brazil or another South American country that does not require a visa then travel overland to Colombia before buying passage on small boats to Panama’s northern Darien coast. They then have to cross the Tarcarcuna mountains and navigate passage on small boats to ports with road access to the Pan American highway. Conditions for these people are harsh, and few arrive here with a lot of resources still in their possession. International aid groups have now established some shelters and tents, as well as basic medical care and help with food and sanitation in camps along the river. The Panamanian border police are here too, monitoring the area and organizing the refugees until they are transported away (some are sent home and others book trips on to the Costa Rica border in quite modern looking coaches). It’s an interesting scene to witness, and although the refugees are certainly in dire straits most seemed in good spirits and health generally. Over the last few years, we have encountered one or two boats with refugees, but this year we counted almost twenty, a testament to the large increase in numbers since the pandemic. Eli mentioned that on a previous visit he counted about 60 boats during the day, with roughly a dozen people on each boat. It’s a complex and pressing issue with no easy solutions, and one whose ramifications are being disproportionally felt by the Embera people who live along these rivers.

We arrived in the village of Nuevo Vigia to find most of the towns roughly 500 inhabitants involved in a public meeting, no doubt discussing some of the issues they are facing with this increase in refugee traffic. After some sandwiches, a bathroom (which a local thoughtfully cleaned out just for our use), and cold drinks we set off into the woods on a level but muddy trail that winds out to two small and well-vegetated oxbow lakes. Just before we entered the woods, we spotted a Ruddy Pigeon perched on some and overhead wire, only our second sighting of this species for the Darien tours. The forest behind the village is short, with a fairly open understory and a significant amount of vines in the midstory. It’s an environment that lends itself to easy birding, with small mixed flocks often foraging along the trail, and larger birds often visible in the distant trees. The trail initially passes through some small plantations of coffee and bananas growing in the forest understory before reaching the first small oxbow. Here we found a shallow quiet pool tucked into the forest with lots of emergent trees and bordering bushes that provided myriad perches for kingfishers. We slowly walked along the edge of the water, finding a few Rusty-margined Flycatchers and Lesser Kiskadees hunting over the water before a flash of emerald caught our eye along the bank. It took a bit of time to find a good vantage point, but when we did, we enjoyed excellent views of a diminutive copper and green American Pygmy Kingfisher sitting low over the water. After a few minutes the bird zipped off in pursuit of some hapless fish. We moved on as well, bound for our main destination to a larger oxbow lake near the back of the trail system; a location that has an excellent track record of producing some of the rarer herons and kingfishers in the area. Although the lake is less than a mile from the village the walk took us quite some time due to the impressively sticky mud along the trail (which made us thankful for the canopy camps excellent selection of rubber boots). We were, of course, also sidetracked by some birds along the trail including a foraging male Golden-green Woodpecker that seemed to be traveling with a small group of Purple-throated Fruitcrow, a pair of Black-tailed Flycatchers (now no longer placed in the tyrant flycatcher family) foraging in some overhead vines with fluttering wings and spread tails, a male Black Antshrike sitting quietly in a patch of heliconias, and a responsive Bright-rumped Atilla that eventually sat for us on a high open branch. Once we reached the quiet oxbow lake at the end of the trail we disturbed a raucous Green Heron that flew off, uttering its rather cranky sounding flight calls as it disappeared around the corner. We carefully walked around the margin of the pond, watching intently for any of the more cryptic waterbirds that often occur here. Our good luck held, with close-range scope views of a male Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher (a flashy mid-sized kingfisher that is generally regarded as the most difficult species of new world Kingfisher to see). We were also happy to find a sitting Boat-billed Heron that was dozing high above the water, looking a bit like a grumpy garden gnome peering down from its leafy bower. The lake also held a couple of interesting reptiles, with several small Common Basilisk Lizards sitting around the margin of the water, and even occasionally running across to the safety of some distant thicket and, at the far end of the oxbox we found a loafing Spectacled Caiman doing an excellent impression of a floating log, likely curtailing any thought of us going for a quick swim. We picked our way back to the village where we enjoyed a hearty snack of sandwiches, cake and cold drinks, and then did a bit of Christmas shopping for local handwoven handicrafts before boarding the boats and heading back to La Penita.

After a late lunch some participants opted to enjoy the rest of the afternoon with some relaxation time around the camp’s grounds and feeders. Others chose to head back to the end of the Pan-American highway to take advantage of the much sunnier conditions than on our prior visit. This proved an excellent decision, as we found bird activity to be much better than during the overcast weather a few days prior. We spent our time slowly walking out on a farm road through an area that has become known as the Yaviza Wetlands. Near the beginning of the road, we tracked down a cooperative Striped Cuckoo that stayed perched up on its chosen grass stalks for several minutes. Out in the marshes we were treated to a steady parade of Smooth-billed Ani, Blue-black Grassquits, Variable and Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters and Pale-vented Pigeons feeding on fruiting trees or seeding grasses. The Northern Screamer was still present, and gave us excellent views as it flew up from the marsh and landed on a distant tree. While watching the screamer, we located a perched Plain-breasted Ground-Dove that was sitting out in the grassland and found a couple of Black-throated Mangos foraging on some flowering flag bushes. In the distance we could hear the raucous calls of some large macaws and a quick scan revealed a couple of birds flying behind a large grove of trees. As best we could tell the birds landed somewhere in the canopy, so we scrambled further down the road in an effort to find an angle that we could see the birds. Several other birds gave us fleeting glimpses before we found a pair perched, showing off their all-green bodies and red foreheads that marked them as Great Green Macaws. This large and critically endangered Macaw persists in only a few small populations from Nicaragua to Colombia, with another subspecies occurring in two small parts of coastal Ecuador. Global estimates put the total population at only around 4000 birds, with 2500 of those in the Darien and adjacent parts of Colombia. Amazingly more birds appeared, and we were treated to lengthy views of at least 14 individuals. At one point several macaws were sitting just a few feet away from the screamer, certainly one of the most exotic pairings of species to grace a pair of binoculars in North America!

Once back at the camp we had dinner and then took advantage of the continuing excellent weather by taking a night drive out to in search of nightbirds. In 2021 we tried a new road and were spectacularly successful, so we decided to repeat our route for this year. This year one of the participants had brought along a night vision scope, which proved quite useful in finding several species of roosting birds, a group of Night Monkeys and a Common Opossum as we drove down the drive. Some old-fashioned flashlight work provided views of a Western Lowland Olingo (a cat-like arboreal mammal that is related to raccoons) and a distantly perched Potoo out in one of the paddocks. We spent the majority of our time on a sideroad that leads down to the Chucunaque River, driving slowly along in our open trucks and scanning the forest edge and fields for eyeshine. Not too long after we turned off the highway we spotted a pair of Common Pauraque on the road. The birds were singing a bit, and seemed nonplussed by our lights and engine noise. While watching the nightjars we heard a few whoops from a Black-and-White Owl coming from down the slope, and after driving a bit further down the road managed to entice the bird up into a large tree for a view. This is a very large and very attractive species of owl, sporting a barred chest, orange feet and bills and a well differentiated black crown, which makes them look a bit like a Barred Owl done up for an especially glamorous night on the town. Our run of luck continued just a few hundred yards further down the road, when we picked out a perched Striped Owl sitting on a stump in a field. This too is a particularly attractive species, with bold striping on its breast, tall “ears” and a white facial disk. The bird completely ignored us, spending its time watching the ground for prey, and occasionally sidling down the angled stump that it was sitting on with an impressively light step. The night wasn’t done yet though, as we managed a third species of owl in the form of a responsive Tropical Screech-Owl that came in to tape and perched just off the road, staring back at us in an indignant fashion. Three owls, a nightjar and nearly a half-dozen species of mammals is an amazing return from an hour and a half night drive!

We left the camp on the last day a little after breakfast, making the two-hour drive back west to an isolated mountain range that has been protected by an expat American preacher, and dubbed the San Francisco Reserve. On the way we made a quick stop at a private house known to the camp guides. Here we were wildly successful at viewing an improbable six Great Currasows that were foraging in the backyard, eating scraps and rice that the homeowners throw out for their chickens. The property abuts a large patch of forest, and apparently off and on for the last decade a few Currasows come in (particularly in the wet season) to feed early in the morning. Sometimes years go by with no birds, but during the wet season of 2022 she has been hosting up to nine individuals! As the birds have been coming in daily they have slowly become accustomed to people, and we were able to watch them at an incredibly close range. Currasows are huge birds, with long tails and charismatically curled crests. The males are velvety black, with a white vent and yellow cere, and the females a rich rust color, with a banded tail and stunning white and black banded crest. Normally the species is wary, and rare, but in this situation it was almost like watching a homeowner showing off her very oversized and trumped up chickens.

After taking a prodigious number of photos and thanking our gracious hostess we continued on to the San Francisco Reserve. This protected area encompasses nearly the entire mountain range and was designed to protect the watershed for the nearby town of Torti. The original priest apparently passed away sometime earlier in the year, and unfortunately the new guy seems to have more of a penchant for development with a lot of the hedgerow trees in the fields being recently cut down. Thankfully the forest itself seems to have escaped his attention. After checking in with the landowners we parked a little shy of the woods, near a small reservoir used for irrigating the adjacent fields. On the way to the parking area we spotted a perched White-tailed Kite that was sitting up on a bare tree in the back of one of the fields. It cooperated well, allowing us to drive closer for a better look. The same could not be said for the pair of Blue Ground-Doves that flushed off the roadside edge, perching briefly in a thicket before somehow evaporating into the greenery. Along the edge of the woods we spotted a perched Tropical Pewee, a passing dark-morph Short-tailed Hawk and a pair of quite agitated Sooty-headed Tyrannulets that were chattering away above our van. Bird activity picked up as we neared the forest edge, with a Long-billed Hermit feeding in some flowering heliconias, a male Black-throated Trogon up in the canopy and a female Golden-collared Manakin zipping around in the understory. Here we found our chief prize of the site, in the form of a calling and responsive Speckled Mourner. This species is a large and rufous tityra-relative that is scarce in Panama, tending to stick in large tracts of relatively undisturbed lowland forest. We walked up the gravel road that leads further into the woods, finding a sitting Whooping Motmot and a little flock that contained Dot-winged and Moustached Antwrens. Unfortunately, just as we got onto that flock a passing cloud decided to dump down on us (thankfully the only rain for the day) so many participants missed the antwrens, opting instead to clamber into our van which had been thoughtfully brought up by the driver of our luggage truck. The rains stopped just as we left the property, allowing us to stop and look over a small lake along the road in relative comfort. Here we found well over a hundred loafing Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, as well as three male Red-breasted Meadowlarks that were chasing a female around and trying to show off their rich red chests in a bid to impress her. Their efforts didn’t seem to get them very far with their putative spouse, but were effective at impressing the onlooking birders!

We took a slightly early lunch back at our little café in Torti, where we spent a bit of time watching the patio hummingbird and fruit feeders. Although we didn’t spot any species that were new for the trip it was nice to see species like Black-throated Mango, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird and Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds at such a close range. The fruit feeders were hosting a busy too, with a mix of tanagers including lots of Blue-gray, Plain-colored and Palm and several bright Red-legged Honeycreepers and Blue Dacnis. Chattering groups of Orange-chinned Parakeets, Red-crowned Woodpeckers, and a number of greedy Clay-coloured Thrushes were in the garden as well, making for a most pleasing background to lunch. After lunch we took a short trip to the north, to check out a quiet road in Torti Abajo. On the gravel bank of the Torti River we spent a bit of time checking out the surrounding hedgerows and fields, where we spotted a perched Pearl Kite. This species has only recently arrived in Panama (from South America) following the clearing of the pacific lowlands for cattle pastures. They’re pleasing little birds, with a palette of white, yellow, black and rust and bear a striking resemblance to the falconets of Asia. Here too we found a pair of Yellow-olive Flycatchers and an extremely cooperative Crimson-crested Woodpecker that remained hammering away on a rotten branch as we stood virtually underneath it.

Since the highway out to the Darien was not in good shape this year, especially the section between Torti and Lake Bayano we soon pressed on, heading west towards our Panama City hotel. We kept an eye out any time we encountered grackles foraging on the road edge, and after a while were successful in locating a group of five Carib Grackles, yet another recently arrived species in Panama. Our final stop for the trip was back at the Lake Bayano Bridge, this time in sunny weather. The area was quite birdy, and in about a half-hour of time we picked up four new species for the trip. A pair of Lesser Goldfinches were feeding on grasses around the edge of the parking lot, with the bright black backed male scarcely resembling the paler green backed birds that are familiar to most US birders. Out on the lakeshore we scoped a distant Cocoi Heron, a largely South American species that closely resembles a Great Blue in size and shape but is clad in a crisper plumage of whites and blacks. We also managed to drum up quite an active mixed flock in the woods near the boat ramp. In the flock we located Scrub Greenlets and an Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, among the more common tanagers and honeycreepers. We tried to coax Rusty-winged Antwren and Jet Antbird out of their hiding places, but the antwrens stubbornly refused to come closer to the forest edge and the Jet Antbirds were unfortunately across on the other side of a small cove that we couldn’t access. We continued westwards, recording our final species of the trip with a pair of perched Savannah Hawks along the highway. It took a bit longer than anticipated to navigate the Panama City traffic, but eventually we were sitting down at dinner, drinks in hand and reminiscing about the tour highlights (with Harpy and Crested Eagles, a Northern Screamer, Great Green Macaw, Striped Owl, Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher, Black Oropendola, Great Currasow and Blue Cotinga all getting mentions) over dinner. I want to thank this year’s wonderful crop of participants and our local leader Eliecer Rodriguez Madrid for making this fun tour to lead. I look forward to many more trips to the dynamic and rich Darien in the coming years!

-Gavin Bieber

Created: 14 December 2022